Fake plastic trees, breasts, ivory towers…Vegas Recap

January 5th, 2011 Posted in Photog, Travel | No Comments »

Las Vegas exists to serve one purpose…get your money from your pocket to their pockets as quickly as possible.

Las Vegas Skyline

I know, I know. Saying something like that is as trite as making fun of air travel, people who can’t drive, and for Minnesotans, any conversation about snow. However, it’s absolutely and stunningly true. I’ve always had this picture of myself boogying my way into a crowded place while the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive played in the background. If any place was supposed to commence with the glamor of this notion, it was supposed to be LV.

Instead, I landed at McCarran International Airport in complete amazement of how I’d only been in the town for less than three seconds before I was offered the opportunity to gamble. I have to think the type of person who gambles at an airport has a special kind of stupidity that can only be momentarily silenced by the clambering of machinery and music, which has recently gone fully digital…a way to optimize winnings and take any exercise or fun out of the process. If they invented a machine that would kick you in the balls 100 of every 101 times, but there was a small chance one of those times could be worth slightly more than you invested…would you pump your hard earned American wedge into it?

Alright…so you’re starting to pick up on the fact that I don’t like gambling. I was taught at an early age what a decent return on investment should look like. My parents instilled a sense of responsibility in me that has yet to allow me to throw my hat over the wall for the very, very small and constantly marginal chance to win big. You gotta play, to win, right? I’ll respectfully beg to differ. A colleague of mine once said that he’d rather spend 30 bucks playing golf than gambling any day, because there was a guarantee in his return. I agree fully.

So why the hell was I in Vegas? The mecca of gambling and licentious behavior.

Well, it was for the latter of course. What better place for a few friends from across the world to hang out, get drunk, and meander through city streets screaming at the top of their lungs…well, that’s mostly true, unless you happen to be paying attention to how much drinks cost.

The Dude

Wait, what? Where the hell is Elvis? Frank Sinatra? I just paid 9-fuckin’-dollars for a Corona, and this is the kind of street entertainment I have to suffer through? I’ll give him credit, using his dad’s 1970s Gym Socks for arm guards was awfully clever…but come on. Weren’t we once sold on this dream of Las Vegas being an all inclusive resort of the American dream? It’s not…instead all you hear is flick, flick, flick.

What does flick flick flick mean? If you have been to LV, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you haven’t, then once you get there you will know in seconds. Every ten feet some transient street peddler is flicking cards together with pictures of scantily clad (or just plain naked) women with phone numbers. I feel like on the card there should be an asterisk, letting you know it may not be the girl in the picture, or a girl at all on the other end of that phone. They aren’t allowed to talk or harass you, all they can do is slap their cards together and motion toward you…which is fine, but it happens over and over, and over again.

Robot People

I walked by these two as we made our way down the strip. I have to say they were the most creative of the street performers that I saw out pandering for money. Just like in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, there are quite a few trademark rip offs running up down the strip trying to peddle a few bucks for a picture…except, when they don’t get the cash they tend to yell at people…it’s a shitty business, and I had no part of it. Of course, I stole this picture using my wide-angeled lens and a bit of chance luck…all the while the robot man is yelling at somebody who snuck in a photo with his wife who had just jumped behind them, like a ninja.

I shouldn’t be jaded, these are just people after all…not ridiculously rich land owners that I envy only for their cunning and inexplicable ability to exploit American stupidity.

After all the Vegas secret is to attract people with a concept. Feed them full of plasticated goodness and create a sense of uniqueness. Many buildings were an amazement and with much credit to their owners, designed completely around profit.

The Venetian

The Venetian gives you many different experiences…but one commonality you will find amongst every building you find your way inside of, it’s designed around retention. There are no clocks, there are no windows. In effect, time and decency don’t exist, and nor do the exits. You can’t walk outside of the strip without trying really hard to get away from it…every door you stumble through takes you past retailers, gambling areas, and suckers.

What’s most attractive about The Venetian is the inside. It gives you the illusion of walking through romantic streets with gondolas and shops all around you. Most of the other casinos and resorts we went through had attractions that were completely kitschy and outdated…but there was something kind of unique and neat about this place…for a while at least.

The Streetlight on a Fake Street.

A couple got married just to the left of this lamp post inside…To each their own, but damn that’s redneck.

The Mirage

It is kind of cool to see some of the old buildings that really represent Vegas’ true legacy. Circus Circus in all of it’s cheapness, The Mirage, and Caesars Palace all provide a tiny notion of what the landscape looked like before and allow you to transcend the superficiality of the city for a brief moment in order to respect what it all really means…if only for the briefest of moments. Even the cynical, like myself, are occasionally stunned by the surroundings.

The View

You can pay a few bucks and head to the top of the “Eiffel Tower” at the Paris Casino. You can get some great views like the prior image and see quite a bit. Probably best at night, we went in the day. The only irony is that you have to pay someone to get a birds eye view of a place that is designed solely to remove the money from your back pocket…It’d be like paying the devil 60 bucks to give you a birds eye view of hell, before he led you into yours.

Eiffel Tower, Sort of.

But why not? I venture that everyone who goes to LV says “Well, we are on vacation” at least once a day. For some it’s before paying an astounding entry fee to an attraction that is sorely not worth it. For others it’s financing a second mortgage to pay off their debt at a poker table…and even for a few it’s opening a credit card to take with to the strip club you just found. Whatever your poison, they’ve got it.

The View

The biggest illusion is the food…every place we went to whether cheap or high brow was absolutely shit. There is no value in the less-than-ridiculously priced restaurants…It’s almost like casino owners begrudgingly allowed some of their gambling revenue square footage to go the way of making malts and shitty steaks just to keep people from possibly leaving their casinos. Some bad “American” fries and water that tastes like a shoe will convince anyone that they shouldn’t be there and in fact they should be back on the casino floor where they belong…Stay for desfsert? nah, I’ve got some sinnin’ to do.

The same could be said for a lot of the theme bars. Dicks Last Resort is the most godawful place I’ve ever been. We didn’t eat there, but there was plenty of evidence of people who had. We only had drinks long enough to realize the beer was expensive and terrible and the staff, while trying to be coyly rude, were actually real assholes…for really, dude…Pop your collar some more and kindly jump into a river.

Further extending this tradition of annoying me, The Excalibur, my god. Really?

I want to say our hotel cost something like six dollars a year or something…the TV only had a channel that had LV adverts running…every square inch of the building seemed creepy…Even though outside the incredibly tacky design made you think you were inside a castle, the real inside closely resembled a Ramada Inn cleverly placed near an Iowan airport. The sort of place you’d be disappointed if you didn’t manage to murder a hooker during your stay. However, it’s one of Las Vegas’ “Family Friendly” casinos…can’t wait to go on a tirade about this point.

Family Friendly. Seriously? Honestly, don’t bring your kids here. If you do, don’t expect the freaking SpongeBob Squarepants exhibit to be open at 11:30 AT NIGHT. That’s right, as you stand there yelling at the sign in front of the attraction with your poor kid in tow lamenting about how you aren’t able to drop him off and do some gambling, realize, you suck at parenting. You might think I’m speaking in general, and for the most part I am…but bringing near-adult children and young children are two different things. I saw so many young children that were chained to their parents gambling, smoking, and drinking…it honestly made me a bit upset.

Anyway, let me digress, and remind you not to spend too much time in The Excalibur. If Las Vegas is a hideous beast, The Excalibur is the beast’s asshole…it is the warm home to a bunch of people who seem like they can barely afford Ramen noodles, let alone a trip to Las Vegas. It’s as depressing in it’s company as it is in design. At least The Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM and the like have something sort of upscale to offer. The Excalibur has the kind of carpets you’d expect in a 90 year-old woman’s house and the kind of people you’d expect to rob it…

I guess that didn’t keep us from drinking in it’s bars though, which never closed…Cheap drinks were impossible to find. We asked a lot of locals where they went to drink…finally on the last day we found a couple of places that were reluctantly told to us, only to find them resemble everything else we’d already been exposed to. Seriously, no one could survive in this town paying casino prices. So where do they hang out? It is almost like they have all been encouraged to either not ruin their local spots, or they’re paid supporters of crappy theme bars and clubs, the like they’d been referring us to all the time.

Freemont Street, or “The Freemont Street Experience” was the highlight of our drinking tour…we found quite a few places to saunter in and out of and there were plenty of ‘promoters’ offering us free admission, a few of which we obliged. I highly recommend getting down there and off the strip for a bit…it’s not that much better, but it’s still well worth the time, which you’re bound to waste drinking somewhere else, anyway.

One of the advantages to drinking in LV is that you never have to drive…everything is available to you 24/7 (evil and good), and there is always something to do if you’ve got a few bucks and a few friends around you.

Glamour Skyline

One thing I really did like was the more modern architecture just around the bend from our hotel. I really dig the glass and smooth contours of these buildings. They almost provide a shred of hope, a notion that there is a new Las Vegas in the works. One that is modern and not solely based on tacky ways of luring dollars out of your back pocket. While we didn’t spend much time inside of these buildings, we did spend a lot of time admiring them from the streets an snapping the odd picture.

To the Skies

My favorite picture from the trip. A lucky snap.

Shiny Happy Buildings

High-brow shopping clads the street below these marvelous glass monstrosities.

Tiffany & Co.

I’m certain I couldn’t afford much in these places…but then again, I’m not that kind of person anyway.

Gucci

I live a simple life…although, given the chance I’m sure I’d live up to be a great rich dude.

Twin Buildings

I’ll end my diatribe on the newer section of the strip here, on my second favorite picture…I’d like to live in a building like this some day…perhaps with a helipad and a bar on every other floor…wow, I’m starting to feel less jaded about LV already.

Lady Liberty

And…it’s back. The Statue of Liberty stands out in front of New York, New York…As a casino it’s as boring as the others, but we did pop into the Coyote Ugly bar on the last night to watch women dance and harass men from their perch on top of the bar…a complete meat market full of popped collars, drunk chicks, and tight jean shorts…it wasn’t all bad. :)

I’ll save you the rest of the details…after all, there aren’t any decent pictures to accompany my stories. This trip was really centered around seeming some friends from afar, getting drunk and being merry. Let’s face it, what happens in Vegas is too boring to tell anyone else…unless you really did bury a hooker, in which case you should just keep that to yourself.

Very Tall Bridge

One of the best parts was getting out of Vegas to see the Grand Canyon and all of it’s amazingness. We also stopped at the Hoover Dam along the way, certainly something you should experience if you’re in the neighborhood.

Me!

I’m not one to photograph myself…but I thought I might as well take a momento away with me :)

Painted Landscape

We ended up being a little turned around after realizing that they’d completed the bridge at the Hoover Dam and got rid of the old windy roads that used to lead straight through it. We were lucky, because we had decided to off road a bit and get to the back of Lake Mead and got to take in some great landscapes before making our way back in.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is simply amazing. My friends from the UK were pretty impressed, but quick to make a few jokes. I was quick to remind them that what they were looking at was bigger than their entire country…

Freezing Rocks

The ground was cold, it had just snowed when we got up there…I recently visited Denver and it was really cold there as well…it’s almost like a conspiracy that wherever I travel I bring the cold with me…coming soon to freeze your town, The Lunk.

Cavernous

We hit the rim of the canyon just as the sun was starting to set…You could spend a lifetime photographing around the canyon areas, unfortunately I only had but a few minutes to grab a few shots and hit the car for the long ride back to Vegas.

All in all, if you’re going for a long weekend to get drunk and hang out, even to gamble a few bucks…Vegas isn’t all that bad. Just don’t spend too much time, and don’t take anything seriously…once you start to dissect people’s sad lives pumping their money into slot machines, you’ll have a tough time removing that cynicism from your thought process. Instead, take a deep breath, drink a few expensive drinks, and go do something kitschy and stupid…you’ll like yourself better in the morning that way.

Why Lie?

Just, for god sakes, whatever you do…don’t be “that guy.”

Play the Blues

All for now kids,

Lunks.

The Vegas Trip

November 17th, 2010 Posted in Photog | No Comments »

So, as I’m walking to get the mail it dawned on me that it’s 32 degrees in Minnesota and 62 degrees in Nevada.

Encouraging revelation to have, as I remembered that I’ll be in Las Vegas tomorrow for a little rendezvous with some friends. If you know me, or have read my other entries…planning is not my strong point. I always enjoy the spontaneous approach to traveling, for better or for worse.

I think we all have the mystique of Vegas pretty well outlined…from the negative connotations to the positive ones and that subtext of it being the land of strange conventions, computer expos, and the very bleakest of human moments. To be honest, I’ve only been there once and it was on a quick drive through…My parents and I stopped to eat at the Red Lobster and headed down the road back to Phoenix. Yes, it’s ok to laugh a little.

So, now with a five-day excursion to the city of sin with an equally-matched five guys, will the mystique be reborn?

Honestly, my best guess is that we’ll get off the plane at the airport expecting to hear the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive as we boogie on through and high five extremely gorgeous women. In reality, we’ll just end up in an airport like any other and hop along our way to the hotel ready to start drinking.

Hopefully I’ll squeeze in a few updates along the trip. I’m heading out with just my Rebel XTi and my trusty 10-22mm Canon lens. I suspect we’ll take a drive and see a few sites, but what is more likely is that we’ll end up piss drunk for most of the trip. Hopefully some funny moments are captured and some good times are had…

lunks

The Minneapolis Photo-Tour

April 7th, 2010 Posted in Photog | No Comments »

Laurence, Rod and I went for a little tour of Minneapolis tonight to shoot some photos. I had planned on processing a few images tonight, but ended up processing everything that I will likely want to. I wasn’t going to share these here, but I figured why not…might as well put this blog that nearly no one visits to some good use :)

I highly recommend the Stone-Arch Bridge area if you’ve never been to Minneapolis. The Mill Ruins park is a good place to start, and sunset is a great time to see the sights around this area. We stopped across the way at Tugg’s Bar for a cheeseburger, which was absolutely terrible and decided not to go back out into the cold to shoot some nighttime stuff…After all, we were all exhausted :)

What was and is no longer

It all started here, behind the old Pillsbury building in Minneapolis.

E-17

E-17…Nothing to see here, move right along, son.

Monkey Mayhem

Monkey Mayhem…a cool piece of graffiti that I don’t remember being here when I was last in this area…cool colors and design, don’t you think?

A-B-C easy as 1-2-3

Building blocks made of concrete…You have to hit a little walking trail to get to this area…sort of a “park.”

Darkend Arches

My first play around with a ND filter, Cheers Laurence. This is the Stone Arch Bridge as seen from the small “parkish” area beside it. A shorter exposure, I took two of these images and this one is by far my favorite. I like how the ND filter flattens the water and adds a dramatic tone to the sky.

Stone Arch

The other image, this one was exposed 2 minutes longer at F16. I like this image, but I ended up processing the color into it. The prior image was only adjusted for brightness…but either way, I think they are both pretty cool….eh?

Stone Arch Sky

My favorite icon of Minneapolis…Something I’ve shot a few different times, but it never gets old :)

Gold Medal Flour

Gold Medal Flour as the sun hits it in the evening. This is a really cool spot to be in, standing on the bridge and watching the sun set in Minneapolis. This day it created a really cool effect into the clouds behind it.

Pillsbury

Pillsbury in the setting sun.

St Anthony Falls

St. Anthony Falls in the sunset from the Stone-Arch Bridge.

Looking down on the falls

An interesting shot, standing on the Stone-Arch looking down…a sort of accident…I’m sure this will only be “interesting” to me, but I like it, so shutup! :)

Evening on Stone Arch

Lights on Stone-Arch.

There you have it, Minneapolis. A fun shoot and I learned a lot. Catch ya all soon.

lunks

The spur of the moment

April 7th, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

Got a bug to process some more images…here ya go :)

Big Ben

Big Ben up close and personal. There was construction this day, so I decided to get close, otherwise you could see scaffolding surrounding the iconic structure.

Graffiti Park

Graffiti underneath: An impromptu skate park along the river down the way from the London Eye. I think I was making some skaters uncomfortable standing there with my camera.

National Theatre

National Theatre…really cool at night.

Take This Sinking Boat

Take this sinking boat, and point us home…along the dried up banks in Chester, Cheshire, UK.

Green Tree

Green Trees

The Road Less Traveled

Chris and I, enjoying the road less traveled.

All for now. Went shooting with Laurence and Rod tonight around Minneapolis. My favorite spot is along the stone-arch bridge, on a great night watching the sun set behind the buildings and clouds overlooking St. Anthony Falls is simply breathtaking. Pictures on the way soon.

lunks

Amsterdam!

March 31st, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

Got around to processing a few pictures from Amsterdam. Hot of the presses.

Tower of Power

Bike into Oblivion

A bicyclist rides into the wide flames of oblivion.

Amsterdam Self Portrait

My best attempt at a “Self Portrait”

Fly Away

Fly away.

Keep Cruel

Keep it cruel…baby.

More to come…Who knows when :) I’m excited though as a few of these might be printed shortly…time to start hanging my own crap in my house. Ta for now,

lunks

The journey remembered

March 25th, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

As I processed pictures tonight I kept telling myself I’d only do a few…I ended up doing a few more than a few when I started to realize how much I’d obsessed over the London Eye. An iconic and really cool piece of London’s riverwalk it visible in so many places and gives so many impressions. I ended up posting several pictures of the eye with a few more on the way eventually…Anyway here are some more processed pictures from London and Cheshire. More to come!

Big Ben
The sun begins to slink behind the clouds as night sets in London.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge at night, an awe-inspiring moment.

Attack of the London Eye
Sharp angle of the London Eye.

Peas in a Pod
Peas in pods as the London Eye changes colours in the night.

London Eye at Night - Red
Do you fancy red, or …

London Eye at Night - Blue
Blue? :)

Blackfriars Bridge
The clouds pose for the sky at Blackfriar’s Bridge.

Mow Cow
Ruins of Mow Cow from the front.

Mow Cow
Mow Cow from the side.


Access Land
Public access land, for all in Cheshire.

Cheshire Countryside
Cheshire Countryside.

Trees of Cheshire

Cheshire trees enjoy the sunset…

Come back for more, soon!

lunks

Fun times in Cheshire

March 24th, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

Chris and I experimenting with my phone and the beer sampler I had bought.

All of the following pictures were taken around Chesire, England. I’ll have more to process, but I’ll break them up into blog posts so there here and on flickr.

The last snow

Boats

Placid dam

The dark wall

What was a bird

Out to pasture

More to come!

lunks

The last European post

March 22nd, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

The last day in London, I awoke at about 0700, anxious to get going for the day. I had went to bed after writing my last blog update at about 0200, so I didn’t manage to get a whole lot of sleep. I remember watching Big Bang Theory and charging my iPod for the next day which proved to be absolutely crucial.

Thankfully both the Victoria and City lines were fully operational. During the weekend, The Underground (tube, subway) go through engineering works and are often shut at different times. This worried me, because I had the dead hooker case to contend with and I really didn’t want to figure out how to get that thing on and off buses and try to get all the way out to Heathrow from Zone 3.

It was a beautiful day when I left. Isn’t that how it goes?

My arm surged as I dragged the dead hooker bag along the half mile to the Blackhorse underground station. Never again will I bring luggage that big to a place where I’m making multiple journeys. That bag is only now applicable to situations where I need to travel to one place for more than 7 days…which probably won’t happen much.

You can go anywhere with a pair of jeans, enough changes of underwear and a few pairs of warm socks. I threw in a couple of thermals and some shirts into that equation as well. I did bring hiking boots, which I didn’t use…but may or may not be useful for different situations. In the end, I could have easily subtracted half of that and used the rolling duffel that I use for work often.

I also realized that ATMs are a good way to go…my bank simply charged the conversion rate and probably a small percentage. I had brought a pile of US cash that came right back with me as I never ended up changing it.

Credit cards are a thing to be advised about, though. Europe uses “chip and pin” for everything, which is a smartcard that had the credit card details encrypted against a pin number. Most merchants have a bluetooth-enabled handheld that the user inserts their card into and types in a pin and changes the amount if necessary. Therefore, all the processing is done with no signature and often at the dinner table or where the service is being provided.

America is way behind on the “chip and pin” thing.

It is so much more useful to have no signature and use the pin instead. Plus the added layer of keeping your card in front of you is nice. All merchants can still take swipe cards, but most of them haven’t swiped one in a long while. Therefore, you’ll want to mention if you take a credit card into any merchant, that has to be swiped and signed for. I would often joke with a waitress or waiter and hand them the card saying, “here is my inferior American credit card that needs to be swiped.”

Most ticket collection machines won’t allow swipe cards after a certain dollar amount because of the required signature. Almost all of them won’t allow it at all. Therefore, if you need underground travel cards or rail tickets you should find the nearest “Assistance” booth and work with them directly. Every where I went this was really easy to deal with. Simply state where you need to go and ask them for help. In England it was an especially easy process.

Oyster cards are a great way to go, as well. This is more applicable if you’re going to be using public transit a lot in England. You can pick them up from a lot of different stores and convenience shops around London and places like Tescos Express. You prepay the card and can return it, getting your money back when you’re done. I didn’t go end up going this route because I didn’t need the tube that much as I was staying in London central. I would have saved myself a few quid if I would bothered though.

Oyster cards use a technology that is like, and may possibly be RFID. You simply pass the card by the Oyster reader at the turnstyles in and out of the tube or on the buses. It subtracts the appropriate cost from the card and looks at where you exited. So, if you went into a station in Zone 1 and exited in Zone 2 you’d be charged for a Zone 1-2 one-way travel. Every Londonhead seemed to have one, and they are quite a bit faster than travel cards and incredibly versatile. I would imagine they’ve done this to make public transit easier and quicker and to give an incentive for people not to use ticket collection machines all the time, but rather pre-pay their Oyster card.

Anyway, before I get too far off topic, I picked up a travel card and headed to London Paddington Station to pick up the Heathrow Express train. You can get to Heathrow using an all-zones travelcard but you have to make a ton of stops on the way. The Heathrow Express train goes straight to central and you can connect to Terminal 4 by taking the Heathrow Connect train which stops frequently.

I got to Heathrow with way, way too much time. I think I made it through all the underground and train connections and into the terminal I needed at about 1030 for a 1355 flight. I grabbed a bite to eat and sat watching planes for a while. I spotted an Airbus A380 Emirates livery taxiing to a gate across the terminal.

What an amazing plane. With passenger capabilities between 525 and 853, the Airbus A380 taxis down the tarmac like a fat man swaggering around Old Country Buffet in search of a good seat that will allow plenty of elbow room while still providing good service. Usually serviced by several jetways, the plane is absolutely massive. Heathrow had a few gates for heavy aircraft where several 747s cruised by. The A380 dwarfed all of these planes.

I was sad that I didn’t get to see it land, which would have been a hell of a sight to see. The main landing gear consists of twenty wheels and the plane is so massive that it has to use cameras to aid pilots in navigating the beast on the ground. I was hoping to see it take off, but I was sent down to my gate to check in.

Getting through security at Terminal 4 was a breeze and the airport is laid out exceptionally well. Their approach for screening is very straightforward and helpful. You walk through several different stages of checks and when you actually get to the strip and put everything through the machine part, there is someone on hand to help you with trays. They also wrap the conveyor system around at an arc so multiple people can perform tasks at the same time, with a yellow line to stand and wait to be summoned.

At the gate, I had to present my passport again and was sat in a “secure gate area” with people watching to make sure we didn’t get out. Curious enough, these security agents were not with any carrier or airport, but a third-party agency contracted to provide the service. Also unfortunate is the placement of Gate 2 at Terminal 4 in Heathrow, which only has a view of the airplane you’re about to board and nothing else. I put on my headphones and drifted away for a while.

I actually started to revisit a lot of things that existed in a version of myself from a long time ago. I became really comfortable wearing headphones and walking around London. As well, I was constantly surrounded by people in situations that I would otherwise tend to avoid. I was just another person with my headphones on connecting what I was listening to what I seeing, a perfect marriage of sensory perception.

Music created the perfect soundtrack for me as I people watched on the city streets.

Sometimes hectic, sometimes blissful the music guided me through crowds and public transit stations, helped me lug around the dead hooker bag without incident, helped me write massive blog entries on my Blackberry, and helped to pass time waiting when necessary. It made me realize how much I miss just listening to music and removing myself from worry, something I don’t get to do very often anymore. As we get older and more responsible I think we tend to forget about what is important, ourselves.

Ghandi said it best, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

I was reminded that it’s important to take some time for yourself to find an escape. Take in what is around you and enjoy your time on Earth. For me, music and fresh air accomplish 99.9% of this goal instantly…for you it may be different, but always remember that there is a big world out there, go explore it, and learn to enjoy everything around you.

I drifted back into the world in time to hear the announcement to board Zone 4, the farthest point away from the front of the 767-400ER you can board. On the way in I was standing next to a dude with huge shoulders, tattoos, and an interesting disposition. He told the stewardess that he was in row 31.

“Oh shit. I’m in row 31″, I thought to myself. Being elbow-to-elbow with this guy for 8.5 hours was the last thing I wanted.

Thankfully, I ended up sitting next to a very tiny Chinese woman who was really sweet and funny. She was on the way to Las Vegas with boxes and boxes of crap she’d undoubtedly gathered abroad. I think she had an interesting experience waiting for her in customs back in the US…I saw her being herded to an inspection officer with her trolley full of crap shortly before I left.

As we departed I looked out my window and had a great view of the Emirates A380 taking off. Watching that massive plane get off the ground is simply amazing.

I learned this time to put my bookbag and equipment in the overhead, using my coat to wrap it gently to keep it from getting hurt. This gave me plenty of room to spread my legs out and rest, watching movies on the in-flight entertainment system as we flew.

“I think the problem is spreading, each terminal on this side has failed sequentially…My best guess is that the video server isn’t allowing new connections and needs to be reset.” I told the stewardess as everyone started to become frustrated with their monitors. “We’ll have to reboot the system.” they replied on the overhead. That’s right, now planes have complicated entertainment systems that are Linux-based and tend to fail. Who would have thought that a flight attendant, or customer service manager, or whatever she was called, would have to deal with servers and hardware…Ah well.

Because of the failure, they turned on all content. Boom. I watched three movies and one on my iPod while they were fixing the system and the flight felt short. No bumps, no problems, great flight. Delta has a very commendable service to Heathrow, Terminal 4 was really sweet and I didn’t have any problems thanks to the British Airways (BA) Strike.

There was some talk early on that a sympathetic baggage handler slowdown might happen, but thankfully I and my dead hooker bag made it all the way with no problems.

As soon as I got home, I sorted out my mail, had a jacuzzi and passed out…Drinking until the late hours, then flying across the world will make you a bit tired.

To wrap things up, it was a great time. I think I’ll be going back to The Netherlands at some point again to explore, possibly on my way through into Germany and France. It was fun to get good at exploring on my own. It was an experience that I would recommend to anyone, and just remember the best way to get by is to be cool and appreciate local culture. Learn how to say please and thank you in native languages and appreciate helpful situations.

The thing is, people are people no matter where you go. They respond well to being nice and confident and always look for something to show similar interest. A smile will take you a long was as well…no one can resist a charming and warm smile from someone who speaks well.

I’m thankful to have made every train/bus/boat/plane/car/ricksaw on time as I traveled. Somehow I feel as though karma was on my side as I narrowly missed a few, but never had any real frightening travel failure. I was also zen and calm most of the time, except for the 10 minutes before my Eurostar journey back to London.

It was worth every second and every dollar spent. Remember, take some time yourself and chase what you’ve never chased before, have experiences and enjoy life…otherwise, what was the point of all this, really?

Cheers!
lunks

The wistful Londonhead

March 20th, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | 1 Comment »

So, first thing is next, here are the top searches for my blog in the past week: “silly american customs, gay wrestler, crowded veranda.”

That’s pretty awesome, I don’t care who you are, getting hits for “gay wrestler” is just funny…anyway, by typing the words “gay wrestler” a few more times, I’m only making it more and more likely that I will in fact get hits for that…Ah well, I need the publicity.

Thanks to all who have been reading this blog over my travels. While I know that all three of you to be close friends and family, the fact that someone is legitimizing all this writing feels good and it was fun to do. To be honest, the real reason for all of this was to be able to look back at some point and remember all the good times had and perhaps jog a few memories not written about explicitly.

I went to Tescos this morning to pick up some goods for the folks back home and a few pints of John Smith’s bitter for myself. After packing everything up like a ninja I set a course for London for one last night of drinking and to say goodbye to some of the people I had met down here.

I was crashing at a new place this last night, thanks very much to Kev who was gracious enough to lend me his flat even though he is out of town at the moment. Getting here was no problem, but when I went back to the second-from-the-last Victoria tube station I was horrified to find that the line had completely closed, for some reason.

Technology met geek once again as I used my GPS on the first train I got on to in order to figure out an appropriate place to jump off and find a tube station with a connection to the Piccadally line and I made my way down to The Lyceum to see everyone, granted I was two hours late.

After a pint, we headed out for dinner at Sophies, which was lovely.

Jim, Dave and I popped in and out of some pubs and ended up at the Tup to watch the England/France rugby game. Let me tell you, Rugby is well appreciated by the English patrons in this bar…a lively and freaking hilarious scene erupted as the game neared the completion.

Eventually, England lost. Frenchie and Pete were there though…they had a quick manhug and Elton John came on the overhead radio…Singing the blues everyone started to sing and cheer for their team, it was a fun experience.

We closed out the night at The Lyceum and I then had a train to catch. I said goodbye to a lot of really, really great people. I truly mean that. Dave, Jim, Gill, Pete, Mark, Josh, Frenchie, Patsy, Lyndsey and a couple of other blokes I can’t quite remember…I’m absolutely shit with names, after all.

When I broke out of the pub onto the street with my iPod playing I felt a little whim of wistful. I honestly met some really awesome people in London. Gill offered me a place to kip in London if I needed one, and big hugs went around. I’m going to miss Pete and Gill and I hope to see them again in my travels, even though I get the feeling that I may not.

My experience as a Londonhead was awesome and getting one last taste of that before leaving was really important to me. I am thankful to have a talent for finding and forging good relationships and I’m extremely thankful to all the people who let me crash at their places and take me around the beautiful and historical country that is England.

At the risk of becoming emotional, I’ll end there. After all I am drunk and it is about 0200 GMT. I need to get some sleep so I can wake up early, have a shower, and figure out the tube to get back to Heathrow. I’m sure I’ll have a few final closing thoughts and some processed pictures over the next couple of days, so you’re all welcome to come back and enjoy those as they get posted.

I’ve learned many things on this trip, and one of those was getting back in touch with myself and breaking out of the box that I wanted to only step outside and try for a few days…simply brilliant, a wonderful and sublime, sobering, and educational trip this has been and I can’t wait to see what the future of my travels holds.

Cheers for now, be good to yourselves and yours and remember that the world is only a few steps away, it’s a big map, get out and discover it.

a very humble,
lunks

The Stonehenge route

March 19th, 2010 Posted in Europe 2010 | No Comments »

It looks like yesterday I spelled Stonehenge wrong in my post…I would have to think that is a common mistake for many people, but you’ll have to pardon my improper spelling from before. I’d edit it, but I’m going to instead use it as a testament to my stupidity. :)

I woke up early, in fact I actually beat my alarm clock that was setup for 0810. I’m not sure why it was set for 10 past, but I think that may have been something I did in my sleep. I’ve been known to do a lot of things in the name of keeping my slumber going, just a little bit longer.

After breakfast we headed toward Salisbury to see Stonehenge, which is stone formation on Salisbury Plane. What is particularly curious about this rock formation is the fact that we have no idea how the hell it got there. It obviously predates any type of heavy machinery and really goes against what is physical possible for a human.

The stone itself is mostly bluestone, which Mike tells me would come from the South of Wales. The logistical nightmare of bringing these massive stones down from that distance lends itself to impossibility. Here’s a quick shot I took with my Blackberry…I have some better ones on the way, but unfortunately the sky at Stonehenge this day was pretty boring and not shining much light on the monument, so either way most of my pictures weren’t anything spectacular.

Many have claimed the monument such as the druids and other sects of religidiculous (yes I made up that word).

It was a very inspiring moment. Not only was I standing and looking at something that is considered one of the greatest sights to see in the world, but the really amazing part was how the hell did this get here? It made me think of modern engineering problems and how through the course of history we’ve found ways to overcome great feats. The pyramids which are another target of my traveling forecast are another example of the shear human ability to do great things.

It also makes me look inward at myself. What will be my Stonehenge moment? Will I ever do something, throwing my hat over the wall, that has any impact on the world? Will I have challenges that are to me as difficult as those who faced the challenge of building Stonehenge?

Either way you look at it, it is just sheer amazing. Even though it costs 6 quid to get in and even more to get in the country it was worth every penny to stand and take in the moment, sharing it with a bunch of other people. I had opted not to take the audio tour, as interesting as it all was…it’s just speculation.

I’m not big on speculation. I’m a rather objective person and I enjoyed coming to my own conclusions…and jovial conspiracy theories.

We left and set out to drive to and along the South Coast of England.



We got a bit turned around heading South past Fordingbridge, and then back up through Fordingbridge to work our way down to the coast.

To get there, we had to go through a large national park called the New Forest. Created in 1079 by William I, the area is quite beautiful. Currently it is being used for horses and livestock that are allowed to roam completely free. So, it is an *incredibly* dangerous road to travel at high speeds and at night. Thankfully, neither of those were true in our case.



There were quite a few times we’d run into horses milling about the road and have to wait for the other lane of traffic to clear. The horses had no problem running the land. I’d heard that at the end of the year they have a sort of party, going around and checking all the horses and their tags in order to make sure they’re all there.

Horses from the area are also very specific in their coloring and style. The breeds, which I know absolutely nothing about, are quite interesting and have long tufts of hair down their legs…kinda cute in a way. I also enjoy using the word “equine” but have no opportunity here. :)

We continued, turning due South to head toward the town of Lymington. First we stopped so I could use a garage’s toilet. British lesson #385 a gas station is called a garage, but it may also sell cars, confusing. Also bathrooms or lavatories are almost always called “toilets” in Europe which was a word that I got a bit of a rise out of using…so, “Have you got a toilet, please?” would be the right way to ask for a bathroom.

Well, it makes sense…how many gas stations have a bathtub these days?

Once we made Lymington we stopped to snap a few pictures. There is a ferry that will take you across the water to Isle of White (IOW) known for the chalk that the isle sits on. In fact, most of the South of England has a chalk base and that can be seen clearly on the Isle of White.

There is a place called “The Needles” where exposed chalk blocks protrude from the ocean giving the appearance of a needly base that leads out to a lighthouse. It’s quite a brilliant sight, but at the time we had gotten down to see it, the haze had started to settle in. The weather on Thursday wasn’t exactly optimal, but it wasn’t terrible at the same time. It’s not a proper English experience without rain, anyway.

We had a nice lunch in Lynmington which for me consisted of some fresh scampi and chips. Everyone, literally everyone, has a dish that comes with chips in this country…even the fancy places. Not sure why, but believe me it’s very true.

In fact, this evening I had a conversation with Mike about how English people, because of their island lifestyle, are all fish experts. The availability of fresh fish, after all, is quite good in this country. Having been a fisherman and still enthused about it, Mike is very savvy about his fish. Haddock, which is technically less superior to Cod is actually a bit more tasty for me…

One of the things that does completely suck about living in Minnesota, is there is no availability of decent sea fare. Even at upscale places like McCormicks and Schmick’s you’ll get very close to fresh, but it’s not as though it was brought in from the pier that morning. Most of the stuff we can get has been frozen for far too long, creating dry and tasteless sea fare. Though, out east in America is quite nice as well…but Minnesota is definitely the bottom of the barrel when it comes to saltwater.

After we got back to the house we sat and had a cup of tea. We’d reserved a table at a Nepalese restaurant called Gurkha Palace, which Mike tells me Gurkha is a Nepalese regiment of the British Army. One of the things I’ve noticed in England is that you can get good Indian takeaway or sit down food, quite literally anywhere.

Over here, they’d say “Come on, let’s have an Indian” or even “a Chinese.”

Don’t worry if your English friend says something like that, he or she does not mean to imply that they are going to carve up an Indian at the table and serve him or her family style, just a bend in the language.

We had a set meal for three which consisted of a two types of chicken curry, vegetable and spinach curry, lamb curry, and some rice. It was absolutely brilliant.

I had a couple bottles of this Nepalese Lager and I have to admit, it wasn’t bad. At a meager 4.7 points of alcohol it still managed to turn me a bit red after two. That, combined with an amazingly hot curry made for a nasal passage blowing experience. I was quite literally sweating from every pour.

In another life, I had once helped to make a curry dish that was quite brilliant. I felt inspired on this trip to learn the intricacy of making a good curry dish. Perhaps I’ll have to post my findings if I get somewhere with that. I’ve also been meaning to post my Pad Thai recipe and philosophy. Perhaps that would net me a few more visitors a month.

Anyway after the restaurant it was home for bed. I was completely wiped out! I think I’m still recovering from my landing in London at the beginning of this fortnight-long holiday. Either way a nice bed and a quiet environment was much appreciated, thanks again Mike and Irene.

Let’s fast forward through the strange ass dreams I had Thursday night and go into today, Friday. We had all decided to go to Hampton Court Palace this morning which was best known for being Henry VIII’s home.

This is another thing I think you should see if you are in England. Honestly, when Mike and Irene mentioned it in the morning, I wasn’t exactly sure what it was all about. I had told them I wanted to see some old castles and such and this seemed to fit the bill.

Point of interest, this is where my brother-in-law proposed to my sister.

What’s particularly novel about that proposal is that they were in France a few days prior at the Eiffel Tower. My brother-in-law had decided not to propose to my sister because of the insane amount of people he observed doing the same around him. I think my sister was a little disappointed, thinking it was going to happen then. However, this awesome act of rebellion was a moment where I started to like my bro-in-law even more…It seems like the sort of thing I’d do. :)

Anyway, it was a very cool experience. Huge courts, kitchens, bedrooms and the insanity of royal living. One of the most interesting things about this palace were the kitchens and how they prepared the meals. Oddly enough, one of the things that may have helped kill Henry was the deficiency of proper vitamins and minerals from eating only “royal foods” like meat.

Pastry was an interesting concept as well, because of the time it was a bit difficult to transport food in a clean method, retaining heat. Pastry, a simple flour and water based method, was simply the container in which food was served. So royalty would simply rip off the top and eat the contents inside. Such a basic compound was beyond them (the pie crust itself). The pie would also allow cooking.

The ovens were advanced and the feasts were insanely managed by a controller and a treasurer who paid for and managed all the logistics. Many servants worked constantly to keep up with the demand of Henry’s court which consisted of over a thousand. Even though the palace was only for a select few, it took a hell of a lot of people to keep it all going.

We went through the apartments, Queen Mary’s bedroom, closets, drawing rooms, great rooms, private dining rooms and many other places throughout the main part of the palace. The paneling and complexity was simply amazing. The palace had been built in a sort of staged way, with different tenants building in different styles. You can see that reflected in not only the design styles, but the actual materials such as brick.

Behind the castle is a massive garden with Yew trees that are saved down to pointy little pyramids. You can walk through the 10 acres of property…but we only toured the vines and gardens before heading over to the maze, where I proved how much of a geek I really am.

The maze is free with your palace admission. In the center, there is an area that you have to try to get to. You can exit the maze without actually going through…but I was determined to make it into the middle.

Right, so, Google Maps on my phone, GPS enabled, satellite view.

Now I’ve got a view of the entire maze and GPS to tell me where I’m going. Granted it had a slight variance, but it helped us figure out the path that would get us to the center quickly. Kids passed Irene and I excited and giggling saying “it’s this way, it’s this way.” I would laugh at them, because I knew they’d just loop back and catch up with me. We got straight to the middle of the maze without any problems, where I took this picture.

I’m only proud of this experience because I used technology to get me out of a strange situation. In all honesty, I probably looked like a huge bellend walking around with my mobile trying to use satellite imagery to cheat a maze designed for children…but hey, I’m a geek.



We stopped at Tescos Express, which is sort of the Kwik Trip of England to grab some sandwiches for a quick snack before our impending dinner. I came across the car shown above and had a bit of a laugh. 1.3 liter engines are pretty common here, so it was the “Intel Inside” ripoff logo that I noticed first…but the rest of his stickers were also quite amusing. I equated this car to an English Redneck, hehe.

We came back to the house to rest our bones for a bit after quite a bit of walking and exploring, then it was off to the chippy to get some take away dinner. I had some fried sausage and chips, Mike had the haddock, and Irene made some eggs with some of the chips.

At present, I’m sitting on the couch, just wrapping up my final post. Irene has drifted off to bedfordshire on the couch and Mike doesn’t seem to be too far behind.

In all honesty, I’ll be passed out shortly as well.

Tomorrow I’ll head around to the market to get a few things for the folks back home and do some miscellaneous tasks as needed. I’m all set with a place to stay in London thanks to Kev. So I’ll head in tomorrow afternoon, drop off the dead hooker bag, which will be even fuller by then, and then straight to the boozer to meet up with the boys for one last night of drinking in the big smoke.

Soon, I’ll be back at the office…but I don’t want to think about that right now.

Easy for now, fellas

lunks